On Increasing the Number & Diversity of Students Going Abroad in Future Generations

I’m sure you’re well aware of the ambitious initiative of IIE to support academic institutions in the United States with the goal of doubling the national number of students – from the current 300K to 600K – who study abroad by 2019.  The Institute is sponsoring a “summit” in Fall, 2015 to serve as a catalyst for those institutions who sign up as “partners” – http://www.iie.org/en/Programs/Generation-Study-Abroad/About; to date, there are about 600 partners who have committed to set their own goals towards realizing substantial increases in the number of students they send abroad (either for credit or not). IIE is “investing $2 million in the initiative and seeking funds to provide scholarships to college and high school students and grants to institutions.”

As we all know, not only is the current number small as a percentage of currently enrolled students in all higher education institutions (20 million); but, the other important fact is that the largest numbers of students who go abroad attend a relatively small number of all academnic institutions in the U.S.(total is over 4,000).  To realistically move the needle so far along in terms of the absolute number of students studying abroad will require an extraordinarily large increase in the overall number of academic institutions who send students abroad. This large-scale leap forward may take a decade or perhaps twenty-five years.  It’s hard to predict and no one is going on a limb to do so.  Whatever the pathway that proves successful, it will unquestionably require a long-term sustained commitment from our academic institutions and their leadership.

Increasing numbers may be the easy thing to do – however, measurably altering the portrait of who does go abroad will be a difficult task.  We’ve known for decades that we send mostly white middle and upper-class white women abroad.  And yes, many organizations, like NAFSA and CIEE (as far back as the 70s) have mounted efforts to increase the number of “under-represented” students, and apart from unqiue programs explicitly focused on a developing country in Latin America, Asia or Africa – which are designed to attract students of color – the overall percentages of students of color (or of low-income) who study abroad is very low.  eEven as institutions have taken steps to recruit and admit more students of color and students from lower income families, the numbers of these same students who decide to study abroad remains low.

I’d like to call attention to one partner in the IIE initiative, MyWorldAbroad, which has made a commitment to provide its training materials and resources at no cost to students attending partner academic institutions or education abroad programs: http://myworldabroad.com/GenerationStudyAbroad. My World’s founder, Jean-Marc Hachey, whom I’ve known since he first published The BIG Guide to Living and Working Overseas in 2004, has developed a rich archive of resources which, I believe, offer campuses a broad array of important materials to prepare students to take full advantage of their time abroad – and to purposefully articulate the value of their experiences upon their return to campus and begin preparing to enter the global workforce.

I will be at the GenerationAbroad Summit in Washington, DC next Fall- in fact, I’m on the program.  And I hope my colleagues at IIE in New York forcefully continue their own institutional commitment to advocate and support the higher education community to squarely face the moral imperative of diversifying the profile of students who have the opportunity of an international experience in their college years.  

If we cannot succeed in this way, then all we will achieve in coming years is an increase in the number of students from privileged backgrounds who gain the advantages of international experience as they graduate and begin to build their careers.

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